Archbp. Chaput responds to Card. Cottier’s imprudent remarks on Notre Shame


You might recall that back in July WDTPRS responded to the disastrously imprudent comments of His Eminence George Card. Cottier made 30 Giorni.   I suggest you scan what I wrote before reading this piece below.

Now His Excellency Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver has responded to Card. Cottier.

Keep in mind that the Cottier piece was so harmful that I wanted to assume that someone else actually wrote it for the old Cardinal, who signed it.  I also thought that this was a prep piece before the visit of Pres. Obama to the Holy Father.

Here is a CNA report:

Archbishop Chaput responds to Cardinal Cottier on the Notre Dame controversy.

The link to the Italian text in Il FoglioEnglish.

My emphases and comments.

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2009 / 03:16 am (CNA).- The Italian daily Il Foglio published today an article entitled  "L’ascia del vescovo pellerossa – Charles j. Chaput contro Notre Dame e l’illustre cardinale sedotto dall’abortista Obama" ("The ax of the Red Skin Bishop  – Charles J. Chaput against Notre Dame and the illustrious cardinal seduced by the pro abortion Obama") [Yes, Italians still use this language without much sense of racism.  But "seduced" is absolutely right!] in which  the Archbishop of Denver  contests some of the strongly pro-Obama assertions made by Cardinal Georges Cottier last July in the International Catholic Magazine “30 Days”.  [The WDTPRS take here.]

Il Foglio is one of the most influential intellectual dailies in Italy, dedicated more at analyzing than covering the news. Its director is one of the most famous Italian contemporary thinkers, Giuliano Ferrara.

Despite being an agnostic, Ferrara is a long time admirer of the though of Joseph Ratzinger.

On its Tuesday edition, Il Foglio publishes a front page interview to Cardinal Francis George, and devotes the full third page to Archbishop Chaput’s comments to the original Cottier’s essay.

The Archbishop’ article, originally submitted under the more modest title of “Politics, Morality and a President: an American View,”  [Maybe not as catchy as "The axe of the redskin bishop"… but hey! It’s Italian journalism!] focuses on what it meant to the Church in the US President’s Obama speech at the University of Notre Dame, which Cardinal Cottier, Theologian Emeritus of the Pontifical Household, described in 30 Days in a very positive light.

Here is the full text in English of Archbishop Chaput’s article published today in “Il Foglio”, exclusive from Catholic News Agency[Who did a fantastic service here!]


Archbp. Chaput’s piece in Il Foglio with my emphases and comments.

Politics, morality and a president: an american view

One of the strengths of the Church is her global perspective.  In that light, Cardinal Georges Cottier’s recent essay on President Barack Obama (“Politics, morality and original sin,” 30 Days, No. 5), made a valuable contribution to Catholic discussion of the new American president.  Our faith connects us across borders.  What happens in one nation may have an impact on many others.  World opinion about America’s leaders is not only appropriate; it should be welcomed.  And yet, the world does not live and vote in the United States.  Americans doThe pastoral realities of any country are best known by the local bishops who shepherd their people.  Thus, on the subject of America’s leaders, the thoughts of an American bishop may have some value.  They may augment the Cardinal’s good views by offering a different perspective.    Note that I speak here only for myself.  I do not speak for the bishops of the United States as a body, nor for any other individual bishop.  Nor will I address President Obama’s speech to the Islamic world, which Cardinal Cottier mentions in his own essay.  That would require a separate discussion.   

I will focus instead on the President’s graduation appearance at the University of Notre Dame, [good] and Cardinal Cottier’s comments on the President’s thinking.  I have two motives in doing so.  First, men and women from my own diocese belong to the national Notre Dame community as students, graduates and parents.  Every bishop has a stake in the faith of the people in his care, and Notre Dame has never merely been a local Catholic university.  It is an icon of the American Catholic experience.  Second, when Notre Dame’s local bishop vigorously disagrees with the appearance of any speaker, and some 80 other bishops and 300,000 laypeople around the country publicly support the local bishop, then reasonable people must infer that a real problem exists with the speaker – or at least with his appearance at the disputed event.  Reasonable people might further choose to defer to the judgment of those Catholic pastors closest to the controversy.   

Regrettably and unintentionally, Cardinal Cottier’s articulate essay undervalues the gravity of what happened at Notre Dame. [I would say!] It also overvalues the consonance of President Obama’s thinking with Catholic teaching. [D’ya THINK?]  There are several key points to remember here.   [I am so happy that Archbishop is making this clear in Italian to Italians.  They just don’t get this.]

First, resistance to President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame had nothing to do with whether he is a good or bad man. [Well… If the resistance was to his appearance because of his positions, and if the positions are evil and he really believes them, then….] He is obviously a gifted man.  He has many good moral and political instincts, and an admirable devotion to his family.  These things matter.  But unfortunately, so does this:  The President’s views on vital bioethical issues, including but not limited to abortion, differ sharply from Catholic teaching.  This is why he has enjoyed the strong support of major “abortion rights” groups for many years.  Much is made, in some religious circles, of the President’s sympathy for Catholic social teaching. [Kmiec, etc.]  But defense of the unborn child is a demand of social justice. [Exactly!  Abortion is the "Social Justice Issue" of our day.  If you can’t get it right about abortion, you won’t get it right about anything else in the long run.]  There is no “social justice” if the youngest and weakest among us can be legally killed. Good programs for the poor are vital, but they can never excuse this fundamental violation of human rights.

Second, at a different moment and under different circumstances, the conflict at Notre Dame might have faded away if the university had simply asked the President to give a lecture or public address. [Again, WDTPRS did not object to Pres. Obama speaking at Notre Dame.  The objection was to Notre Shame bestowing on this radically pro-abortion President an honor, the honorary doctorate of law, of all things.]  But at a time when the American bishops as a body had already voiced strong concern about the new administration’s abortion policies, Notre Dame not only made the President the centerpiece of its graduation events, but also granted him an honorary doctorate of laws – this, despite his deeply troubling views on abortion law and related social issues.   

The real source of Catholic frustration with President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame was his overt, negative public voting and speaking record on abortion and other problematic issues.  By its actions, Notre Dame ignored and violated the guidance of America’s bishops in their 2004 document, “Catholics in Political Life.”  [Pace Archbp. Chaput: the Conference is not really a governing body which can override bishops or tell them what to do.] In that text, the bishops urged Catholic institutions to refrain from honoring public officials who disagreed with Church teaching on grave matters.    Thus, the fierce debate in American Catholic circles this spring over the Notre Dame honor for Mr. Obama was not finally about partisan politics.  It was about serious issues of Catholic belief, identity and witness – triggered by Mr. Obama’s views — which Cardinal Cottier, writing from outside the American context, may have misunderstood.

[This next paragraph is BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN.  Slow down and read it carefully.]

Third, the Cardinal wisely notes points of contact between President Obama’s frequently stated search for political “common ground” and the Catholic emphasis on pursing the “common good.”  These goals – seeking common ground and pursuing the common good – can often coincide.  But they are not the same thing.  They can sharply diverge in practice.  So-called “common ground” abortion policies may actually attack the common good because they imply a false unity; they create a ledge of shared public agreement too narrow and too weak to sustain the weight of a real moral consensus.  The common good is never served by tolerance for killing the weak – beginning with the unborn.

[As good as this is, it doesn’t really nail CottierCottier’s argument is based on Thomistic reasoning (whether or not he get Thomas right is another question), that the common good can tolerate some dissent by men and women of good will from defined Catholic moral teaching.  In other words Cottiers view argued, he says from T principles, a political leader could be acting in a manner consonant with the common good even if his policies directly contravene Catholic moral teaching.  And the Catholic Church could be generally supportive of such political leaders while still hoping that their policies eventually conform to Catholic moral teaching.  So Cottier could say to Chaput "it doesn’t matter that common group abortion policies may actually attack the common good]

Fourth, Cardinal Cottier rightly reminds his readers of the mutual respect and cooperative spirit required by citizenship in a pluralist democracy.  But pluralism is never an end in itself. [Right!]  It is never an excuse for inaction. [Right.  We cannot simply stand with our hands in our pockets for the sake of pluralism.] As President Obama himself acknowledged at Notre Dame, democracy depends for its health on people of conviction fighting hard in the public square for what they believe – peacefully, legally but vigorously and without apologies.  

Unfortunately, the President also added the curious remark that “… the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt … This doubt should not push us away from our faith.  But it should humble us.”  In a sense, of course, this is true:  On this side of eternity, doubt is part of the human predicament.  But doubt is the absence of something; it is not a positive valueInsofar as it inoculates believers from acting on the demands of faith, doubt is a fatal weakness.  The [watch this…] habit of doubt fits much too comfortably with a kind of “baptized unbelief;” a Christianity that is little more than a vague tribal loyalty and a convenient spiritual vocabulary.  Too often in recent American experience, pluralism and doubt have become alibis for Catholic moral and political lethargy[Well said.] Perhaps Europe is different.  [Obviously not.]

But I would suggest that our current historical moment – which both European and American Catholics share – is very far from the social circumstances facing the early Christian legislators mentioned by the Cardinal.  They had faith, and they also had the zeal – tempered by patience and intelligence – to incarnate the moral content of their faith explicitly in culture.  In other words, they were building a civilization shaped by Christian belief.  Something very different is happening now.  Cardinal Cottier’s essay gives witness to his own generous spirit.  I was struck in particular by his praise for President Obama’s “humble realism.”  I hope he’s right.  American Catholics want him to be right.  Humility and realism are the soil where a commonsense, modest, human-scaled and moral politics can grow.  Whether President Obama can provide this kind of leadership remains to be seen.  We have a duty to pray for him — so that he can, and does.

Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Denver.

I doubt many people in Italy, in Europe, will understand what Archbishop Chaput is talking about.

"Pluralism is never an end in itself".

I can remind you that on various occasions I have written about the "primacy of the struggle".   "I really struggled with this!", people claim, and that struggle then serves as a rationalization of whatever you decide.  So long as you "struggled" with it, then whatever you do mustn’t be criticized.

AT LAST! Someone farther up in paygrade has gone after this Cottier piece, which I think – aside from some of the good points the Cardinal made – contains a real poison pill for Catholics trying to see their way through the tangle of issues surrounding the Catholic position in the public square.

WDTPRS applauds Archbp. Chaput for drilling into Cottier’s position. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. moon1234 says:

    I always think it is interesting when Europeans, whoever they may be, try to assess or think they understand how American politics work. The Archbishop is a gifted writer. He politely put the Cardinal back in his place.

    President Obama has been the single most vocal supporter in the whitehouse of fetal genocide that has ever crawled thru the whitehouse corridors. I sure hope he changes his views. I personally think he has another agenda. A different approach will be needed to deal with type of attack on the most innocent. More action in removing those politicians who think and act like Obama will be needed. Catholic leaders to teach their people that they cannot support a politician who supports the murder of the innocent at any stage of life.

    Think about that the next time you are counting the Obama bumper stickers in the church parking lot.

  2. moon1234 says:

    About says it all does it not? This always makes me sick to my stomach.

  3. mpm says:

    Frankly, this article with its “The ax of the Red Skin Bishop” etc., and Fr. Z’s mention of “racism”, made me look up Archbishop Chaput’s entry on Wikipedia. His father was of French Canadian descent and a lineal descendent of King St. Louis IX of France (who had for table-guests Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure), while his mother was a Potawatomi Indian.

    Wow. What a family history!

    Taking scalps, I like that. ;>

  4. irishgirl says:

    Archbishop Chaput’s descended from St. Louis IX? Cool!

    ‘taking scalps’-oooo, I like that, too!

  5. dcs says:

    Pace Archbp. Chaput: the Conference is not really a governing body which can override bishops or tell them what to do. No, but it does have some authority over Catholic universities:

    Canon 810 §2 The Episcopal Conference and the diocesan Bishops concerned have the duty and the right of seeing to it that, in these universities, the principles of Catholic doctrine are faithfully observed.

  6. Supertradmom says:

    Thank you for sharing this and your excellent comments, Father Z.

  7. Geremia says:

    Reading this was like watching a well-executed game of chess. Beautiful.

    And, Fr. Z, by “Thomistic reasoning” do you mean “faith-informed commonsense?”

    Also, I wish Card. Cottier had quoted the St. Thomas to which he refers when he says: “Even St Thomas, who had no doubt that the law must be moral, added that the State should not make laws too severe and ‘lofty’ because they would be despised by those incapable of applying them.” I think he refers to Summa Theologica Iª-IIæ q. 97 a. 2 which deals with the question “Whether it belongs to the human law to repress all vices?” Despite the fact that St. Thomas says in idem

    The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous, viz. that they should abstain from all evil. Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils: thus it is written (Psalm 30:33): “He that violently bloweth his nose, bringeth out blood”; and (Matthew 9:17) that if “new wine,” i.e. precepts of a perfect life, “is put into old bottles,” i.e. into imperfect men, “the bottles break, and the wine runneth out,” i.e. the precepts are despised, and those men, from contempt, break into evils worse still.

    he cleary says in idem (my emphasis):

    Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder [abortion, e.g.], theft and such like.

  8. Breck says:

    Surely if Archbishop Chaput’s First Nations ancestry is being emphasized, he should be given a tomahawk, not an ax.

  9. Virgil says:

    Here in Italy, Radio Maria read ++Chaput’s complete article. (I listened on my way to the office from the dentist, and the Novocaine had not yet worn off.)

    But they accompanied the article, like Fr Z does, with comments after each paragraph.

    The gist was,…

    “Get a clue, Archbishop Chaput. You don’t understand Cottier at all. It’s not about abortion, which is enshrined in US Law and cannot be changed. The USA finally has a President who actually listens to Catholic teaching. He may be silent on abortion, but cut him some slack. He’s very much in tune with everything else. DON’T LOOK A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH!”

  10. mpm says:


    Interesting, very “Euro”. I’d sure like to know who gave us this wonderful gift!

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